"G-Saviour" We’ve Got Movie Sign!!
Say what you will about Japan, but they sure know how to throw a party. 1999 was the 20th anniversary of Sunrise/Bandai’s popular Mobile Suit Gundam franchise and much fanfare was made, the centerpiece being Yoshiyuki Tomino’s return to the director helm with his anniversary series Turn A Gundam. But in the shadows, away from the banners and limited edition Gunpla kits, another production was under way….
Arriving near the end of the celebratory events, G-Saviour was a much hyped television movie which attempted to move Gundam into the world of live action. Bandai had made an earlier attempt to introduce Gundam to the Western world in the form of the PC/Playstation game Gundam 0079: The War for Earth, a little known but infamous game featuring cut scenes of American actors providing dubious portrayals of classic characters such as Char and Ryu. G-Saviour, however, was promised to be a serious and respectful attempt at bringing the much loved franchise to life. But as time went on and the production was delayed by budget cuts and more, it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be what initial hyped had claimed. G-Saviour finally arrived in Japan early in the new millennium and a forced US release would follow a few years later.
The film is set in Gundam’s central Universal Century (UC) timeline, specifically seventy years after the most recent UC anime, Victory Gundam. The continuously weakening Earth Federation has finally crumbled and in their place has formed a new government system, the Congress of Settlement Nations or CONSENT. CONSENT may not be any better than their predecessors as their power appears to be the result of a large scale conspiracy. Humanity is facing large scale famine, a factor which helps keep CONSENT’s control over humanity stable. Various scientists are researching a solution to this crisis, but those who come close vanish under questionable circumstances. The most recent scientist to disappear worked at the same HydroGen rig as our protagonist, Mark Curran. A former CONSENT mobile suit pilot, Mark left the military under mysterious circumstances and now operates a worker mobile suit for HydroGen. During what seems to be another normal day on the job, the rig is infiltrated by what an arriving CONSENT force claims to be terrorists. Attempting to save one of the rebels from his trigger happy former commander Jack, Mark becomes a trusted ally of these rebels and soon becomes embroiled in a desperate attempt to save humanity from the conspiracy that has it in a stranglehold. To do this, he will have to face past demons and step up to take control of an advanced new mobile suit based on the Gundams of legend—the G-Saviour.
In theory, G-Saviour is an interesting concept. In practice, it’s a flawed idea and possible candidate for the Satellite of Love crew on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bandai seems to have intended to use this to sell Gundam to Western audiences as it’s mostly a Canadian production with many actors recognizable by fans of anime and TV sci-fi. One of the biggest problems this creates is that these people appear to have little to no familiarity with the UC Gundam timeline. The story (by Stephanie Pena-Sy) could easily work as any generic low budget science fiction film of the last decade or so. Whilst certain characteristics are an understandable loss in the transition (characters floating in low gravity spaces as they do in the anime would probably have resulted in fake looking wire work, for example), various common place UC elements are missing as well. Newtypes receive not even a passing mention and given the nature of the conflict being fought you’d expect at least one character to mention the similar Gryps Conflict seen in Zeta Gundam or the even more recent conflict seen in Victory. As the movie is billed as a being the 20th anniversary Gundam movie, some references to the timeline’s history should have been expected of the staff. What factors do remain receive little respect—the people of the colonies (now referred to as ‘settlements’) who were last seen turning their forced emigration against their oppressors and overpowering them, are now back to a similar position as they were in the earlier series, subject to the whims of Earth. Mobile suits have seemingly fallen into a similar time loop as they have now returned to the large sizes of the original series and have lost their standard 360 degree panoramic cockpits in favor of claustrophobic cockpits which only help to point out the productions clearly unsuitable budget. The MS are represented in CGI and whilst not up to the standard of groups like ILM or WETA, they are obviously CG and disappointing generally (especially the Freedom GMs). There are signs of a decent effort from the CG team, though. For a Gundam movie, the actual amount of screen time for MS is generally tiny. Add in that MS in the film are only really seen under the sea, at night or in space, and the model faults escape much scrutiny. However, our first shot of the G-Saviour hidden in a well lit theatre is easily one of the most memorable of the movie and shines with detail that is sadly missing from the design’s model kit.
Musically, the film uses the typical grandiose horn-based sci-fi soundtrack, not unlike what you’d expect to hear in a recent Star Trek series.
The cast themselves are a mixed bag. Brennan Elliot’s portrayal of Mark is one of the best, making the character believable as an Average Joe and when being heroic and lighthearted when needed (his “No kiss for you!” scene is one of the more funny moments in the film). It helps that Mark is also one of the more unique leads in a Gundam work, not being an unwilling teenage soldier, but a full grown former military man whose compassion cost him his career. Given that Mark is a good character, it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a decent rival to play off of. David Lovgren plays Jack, Mark’s former commander and trusted right hand of central villain General Garneux (Kenneth Welsh). Neither of the two characters come close to the memorable villains of the anime series, being two-dimensional threats who are only missing top hats and moustaches to twirl. One scene even shows Garneux meeting with what could be a prostitute wearing a CONSENT uniform in his office. Welsh at least comes close to a good performance, but Lovgren hams it up, making Jack’s scenes and lack of characterization even worse. Give me Char Aznable or Jerid Messa any day. Mark’s girlfriend Mimi (Catharina Conti) rounds up the collection of poorly handled villains with a cheap attempt at redemption which doesn’t make the character any more likeable.
The central face of the rebel movement in the story should be familiar to most Gundam dub fans. Enuka Okuma plays Cynthia Graves with as much talent and respect as she plays Lady Une in Gundam Wing. Even though most of her scenes rely on her being excited about a glowing yellow tube, Okuma plays the role well.
As this DVD release only happened due to direct orders from Japan, Bandai America has realized the small market for the film and serves up what is an understandable but poor effort. The disc opens to a static menu which presents you with the standard options to play the movie, select a specific scene, choose the audio or look at the extras. The audio options are the film’s original English language 5.1 surround or the ‘bonus’ Japanese stereo. This is where a weakness of the release becomes evident—although the Japanese dub is provided the disc has no subtitles, a fact drawn attention to by the disc’s insert. Unless you can speak Japanese or want a cheap laugh, this audio track is useless. The Extras menu presents you with the ability to view a gallery, watch some trailers or check the DVD credits. The gallery is a mix of promotional CGI images for the film and pencil drawings of scenes from the three-part prequel radio drama which ran in Japan to give the film better background. Knowing that the film will likely only sell to fans, the four trailers are all for other Gundam titles (the original series, 08th MS Team, 0083 and Endless Waltz respectively). Not a smashing amount of extras but there likely isn’t much available anyway.
G-Saviour currently resides in a weird state of limbo. Although partially acknowledged by Bandai, the film itself has been quietly reclassified as AUC (Alternate Universal Century) and generally knocked out of the canon timeline. A further sign of its status can be seen as the names of two of the MS (the G-Saviour itself and the rebel’s Freedom GMs) have been snatched up for far more popular designs by the recent SEED series. Additionally, the DVD is now out of print in America. Those interested may wish to track down the earlier mentioned prequel (which gives some background on the famine, the development of the G-Saviour and the research of Dr Reaver) and the Playstation 2 sequel, which deals with some of the aftermath and dangling plot threads from the film itself.
Is G-Saviour worth the purchase? If you can go in with an open mind and accept it’s basically a failed experiment, you may well enjoy it. The film has its faults but there’s also some enjoyment to be found despite what certain fans will tell you. If nothing else, you can likely pick it up for cheap and gather some friends for some good old MST3K-style movie riffing.